Posts Tagged ‘mining in wisconsin’

Sediment TMDL released; the ‘fracking’ rap video

May 16, 2011

Each week, the Freshwater Society publishes a digest of important regional, national and international articles and research on water and the environment. Scan the articles here, then follow the links to read the articles in their entirety where they originally were published.


You are reading this blog. You may look for it each week. Or you may have happened on it through a search-engine query. But, if you like the information about water and the environment you find here, subscribe to the blog so you can read it regularly. We have a new, easier-to-use RSS feature. Click on the RSS icon, at right, and follow the directions to get the blog delivered to your browser or email inbox. Then please let us know what you think of the blog and how you use it. Send comments to


River plan calls for big sediment reductions
The south metro Mississippi River is receiving nearly 1 million tons of sediment from other rivers annually, but a new cleanup plan has targeted the pollution sources and is calling for significant reductions.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency released the first draft of a TMDL — total maximum daily load —that recommends the Minnesota River – the primary source of pollution to the south metro Mississippi reduce its sediment flow by up to 60 percent.

Other reductions stated in the TMDL include 50 percent from the Cannon River, 25 percent from urban runoff, 20 percent from the Upper Mississippi River and 20 percent from smaller rivers and streams in Minnesota and Wisconsin that flow directly into the Mississippi River.

The plan’s goal is to reduce the amount of total suspended solids in this section of the Mississippi River.

The Mississippi River from U.S. Lock & Dam No. 1 in Minneapolis past Red Wing to the head of Lake Pepin is designated as the south metro stretch.
–The Red Wing Republican Eagle

 Minnesota River clean-up far from complete
After 20 years of cleanup efforts and close to a billion dollars in public spending, the Minnesota River is, well, not much better than it was in 1990, according to a long-awaited assessment.

Some of the river’s headwater creeks have more varieties of fish, and some local streams are providing healthier habitat for wildlife in and around the water, state pollution officials reported. But the tiny insects that make up the bottom of the food chain are still not back, and the fish are as scarce as ever in the main streams and the big river itself, the study found.

The disappointing report card, on a river considered the state’s most troubled, is prompting serious questions about whether the state’s largely voluntary approach to protecting its waters is working, said both state officials and clean-water advocates.

“We are not getting very much for our investment,” said Gene Merriam, president of the Freshwater Society. “We have to circle up and figure out a better way to manage our resources.” 

The study by the state Pollution Control Agency (PCA) is the third progress report since 1992, when then Gov. Arne Carlson stood on the banks of the Minnesota holding a jar of dirty water and vowed to clean up the river by 2002. Each time, researchers returned to the same sites throughout the Minnesota River basin to count both types and numbers of fish, invertebrate insects, and to measure habitat like grassy banks and shade-covered streams.
–The Star Tribune

  Opinion: Ag and water on a collision course
It appears environmental and agricultural interests are on a collision course on water quality and the degradation of the Minnesota River, the Mississippi River and Lake Pepin.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency recently released the most extensive study ever of river water quality and its sources of contamination. A significant amount of the blame was directed at runoff from agriculture.

We’re sure the report spreads some of the blame to cities and development and other sources of pollution, but agriculture will be clearly under the microscope from powerful interests that it has until now not really had to face.

The report concludes that the water quality of the Minnesota River and aquatic life has not improved much despite 20 years of effort that began with Gov. Arne Carlson standing in Sibley Park in Mankato declaring that the river will be cleaned up.
–The Mankato Free Press

My Water’s on Fire Tonight (The Fracking Song)
Have you been reading all the news articles about hydraulic fracturing – or “fracking” —  the increasingly common practice of pumping water and chemicals into the ground to extract natural gas from deep shale formations?

Fracking has led to worries about groundwater contamination, including the introduction of flammable and explosive methane into tap water.   Now view a rap video on fracking, produced by journalism students at New York University, and titled “My Water’s on Fire Tonight.”

 House adds invasives rules to environment bill
An upgraded invasive species action plan was added to a bill that cleared the Minnesota House over objections that the overall package would weaken environmental protections.

 The Republican-controlled body voted 95-37 for the large environment and natural resources measure.

 Sponsored by state Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, the bill is a collection of smaller policy proposals covering a wide variety of concerns – from trails to all-terrain vehicle regulations. 

DFLers objected to including the agency initiative in the bill, proposing instead to pass it separately, as the Senate did. They said DFL Gov. Mark Dayton would be more inclined to sign it and do so quickly if it were on its own. 

Among other things, it would give the Department of Natural Resources increased authority for inspections and enforcement and would require aquatic invasive species rules decals to be displayed on watercraft.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

 MPCA levies $420,946 in pollution penalties
In January through March, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency settled 43 cases involving  violations of air and water pollution rules. The companies and individuals accused of the violations will pay a total of $420,946.

 View the list of cases from 31 counties.
–Minnesota Pollution Control Agency News Release

Mining companies eye Wisconsin
Wisconsin is known as the Badger State. However, the state’s nickname does not come from the short-legged member of the weasel family, portrayed by University of Wisconsin mascot Bucky Badger. The Badger State name is actually derived from lead miners who were called badgers because they borrowed into holes in the southwestern part of the state in the 1800s.

 Today mining is largely a forgotten industry in Wisconsin. There are thousands of non-metallic mines in the state, mostly gravel pits. However, there has not been a metallic mine operating in Wisconsin since 1999.

But now two mining companies are considering plans for new metallic mines in the state. Gogebic Taconite LLC is exploring plans to create an iron ore mine near Ashland in Ashland County and Iron County. Aquila Resources Inc. is exploring plans to create a gold mine east of Wausau in Marathon County.

 The mine proposals appear likely to pit environmental advocates against mine supporters who hope their mines will boost the state’s economy.

 U.S. to speed up endangered species decisions
The Interior Department, facing an avalanche of petitions and lawsuits over proposed endangered species designations, said that it had negotiated a settlement under which it will make decisions on 251 species over the next six years.

 Under the agreement, species that the department has already deemed to be at potential risk but whose status remains in limbo, including the New England cottontail and the greater sage grouse of the West, will take priority in the Fish and Wildlife Service workload.

If approved by a federal judge, the settlement would bring about the most sweeping change in the enforcement of the Endangered Species Act since the 1990s, when the department streamlined a procedure for protecting the habitats that endangered species need to recover.

The backlog of more than 250 cases resulted from lawsuits and petitions filed by environmental groups, a strategy for forcing the Fish and Wildlife Service to be more assertive about fulfilling its wildlife-protection mandate. Over the past four years, the service has fielded requests for listing more than 1,230 species as endangered or threatened.
–The New York Times

Wisconsin considers sweeping changes in DNR
Gov. Scott Walker is considering a plan that would turn the state Department of Natural Resources into a self-contained agency, operating outside many of the rules and regulations guiding the rest of state government.

 The plan, released by DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp, would give the agency more autonomy to hire employees, offer merit pay and speed up the permitting process – a common complaint from businesses dealing with the department.

“We would be freed up from a lot of the red tape that slows things down,” said Bob Manwell, DNR spokesman. “We would still be a state agency; we would just be operating under a different set of guidelines.”

Anne Sayers, program director for the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters, called the proposal “a classic case of having the fox guard the hen house.
–The Wisconsin State Journal

Attacks seen on state, U.S. environment rules

March 28, 2011

Each week, the Freshwater Society publishes a digest of important regional, national and international articles and research on water and the environment. Scan the articles here, then follow the links to read the articles in their entirety where they originally were published.

Environmentalists charge legislative assault
It started with proposals to cut regulatory red tape and to repeal a long-standing ban on new nuclear power plants. Soon, there was a push to lift restrictions on new coal-fired power plants. Later, Minnesota legislators voted to ease water-quality standards protecting wild rice.

“This is really an unraveling of Minnesota’s outdoors legacy — on multiple fronts, from energy to water to forestry to parks,” said Steve Morse, executive director of the Minnesota Environment Partnership, a coalition of outdoors and environment groups.

As the 2011 Minnesota Legislature passes the halfway point, there’s growing discontent within environment and conservation communities. The reason? They see lawmakers — especially Republicans — systematically rolling back or weakening environmental protections.

Few days go by, they said, when something threatening doesn’t emerge. With strong Republican majorities in the House and Senate and solid discipline so far within ranks, Democratic-Farmer-Labor Gov. Mark Dayton is seen as their best, and perhaps only, option for an effective defense.

Rep. Denny McNamara, a scrappy Republican from Hastings, has taken a leadership role in the new order, unabashedly pushing parts of the GOP agenda through committees. The outdoors enthusiast and House environment committee chairman said many of his Republican colleagues are simply trying to make it easier for business in a tough economy, are offering provocative ideas and approaches,  or are simply removing confusion in legislation.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Former EPA leaders see retreat on environment
In a Washington Post column, William Ruckelshaus and Christine Todd Whitman –  former administrators of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under Republican presidents – lament the attack they say the current Congress is making on decades of progress against air and water pollution.

 Read their column in the Post.
–The Washington Post

Find a lake – on your phone
Minnesota’s great outdoors used to be ‘off the grid.’ You left the web, email and so on far behind while camping, boating, fishing or hunting. It’s good to unplug once in a while, right?

 Now with wireless data networks blanketing the state, outdoorsy types don’t have to be without Internet on their iPhones or Android smartphones. And this, believe it or not, can be a good thing. 

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources certainly thinks so. It is increasingly encouraging the use of smartphones by providing apps, mobile-friendly websites and other mobile-device resources designed to enhance the outdoor experience.
 –The St. Paul Pioneer Press

 Mondale blasts St. Croix bridge plans
Amending a federal law to allow a new bridge over the St. Croix River amounts to a repeal of protection for scenic rivers nationwide, said former U.S. Sen. Walter Mondale, who was a co-author of the 1968 bill that protects those waterways.

 “I’m against it. This bridge as proposed should not be built,” said Mondale, now a Minneapolis attorney who was President Jimmy Carter’s vice president.

 “I think that people ought to be soberly thinking about whether they want to assault the uniqueness and majesty of that river. This is establishing a dangerous precedent of the whole river system.”

 Mondale’s concerns put him at odds with key Minnesota leaders — Gov. Mark Dayton, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, both fellow Democrats, and U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, a Republican.

 Never in the history of the 43-year-old law protecting the nation’s most scenic rivers has Congress allowed a new bridge over one of them. But Bachmann had introduced legislation to do just that, while Klobuchar is planning similar legislation that would accomplish the same thing. Dayton recently said he also favors a new bridge.
–The Star Tribune

 Ocean winds and waves increase
Ocean wind speeds and wave heights around the world have increased significantly over the past quarter of a century, according to Australian research that has given scientists their first global glimpse of the world’s rising winds and waves.

 Published in the journal Science, the research – the most comprehensive of its kind ever undertaken – used satellite data collected from 1985 to 2008.

 It shows the extreme wave height off the coast of south-west Australia today is six metres on average, more than a metre higher than in 1985.

 “That has all sorts of implications for coastal engineering, navigation and erosion processes,” said Alex Babanin, an oceanographer at Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne, and co-author of the paper.
–Sydney Morning Herald

 Got a deficit? Cut down some trees
Seeking another way to plug a looming budget deficit, at least one Minnesota House Republican has trained his eyes on state-owned black walnut trees.

 A Republican-controlled environmental panel directed the Department of Natural Resources to assess the value of black walnut trees in Frontenac and Whitewater state parks, log the ones considered suitable for harvest and put the money into its parks budget. 

“It’s, as far as I know, the most valuable tree that we have in Minnesota,” said Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, who pitched the idea after noting that acquaintances told him about the trees and their revenue-raising potential.

 The directive, approved mainly along party lines, was put into a larger House bill providing money for environment and natural resources operations and projects. It and a comparable Senate measure slash spending and are headed to their respective floors, where they’re expected to pass as legislative bargaining chips in a developing budget showdown with Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton over solving a projected $5 billion deficit.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Wisconsin phosphorus rules in play
Members of the Natural Resources Board urged Gov. Scott Walker to reconsider his plan to roll back rules that protect Wisconsin lakes and streams from phosphorus pollution.

The board, which sets policy for the state Department of Natural Resources, approved the regulation last year. The rule sets limits on levels of phosphorus, a nutrient that gets into water from fertilizer and human waste and spurs the growth of weeds and toxic blue-green algae. At the time it was passed, the regulation was described as one of the most important water protection laws in Wisconsin since the federal Clean Water Act.

Matt Moroney, deputy secretary of the DNR, told the board that Walker intends to rewrite the rule and that agency staffers are working with the governor’s office on the proposed changes. 

According to the initial proposal, the numeric standard for phosphorus in the rule passed last year would be replaced with a so-called “narrative” standard, which is not a number but instead a description of water quality. Walker also proposes that phosphorus regulations could be no more strict than standards set by neighboring states.
–Wisconsin State Journal

 Road salt tainting our waters
The sound of water gurgling through storm sewers is the promise of a spring that’s been a long time coming. 

But it’s also the sound of a toxic legacy that for decades has been quietly building in lakes and streams around the Twin Cities — road salt. 

The fish, bugs and other wildlife that live in the lakes pay a price for winter traffic safety when the snow melts. This winter, the Pollution Control Agency (PCA) started a four-year project to figure out which Twin Cities’ lakes hold too much chloride, a primary ingredient in salt, and what it will take to keep urban waters healthy. 

But the far more difficult task will be changing long-held beliefs about what it means to be a good citizen in a northern city. After all, most people in Minnesota, from homeowners to city officials, feel pretty strongly about keeping the sidewalks and roads clear and safe in the winter — even if it means putting down a lot more salt than is necessary.
–The Star Tribune

Mining backers seek weaker wild rice rules
High-profile mining projects proposed for northern Minnesota are prompting a fight at the Legislature over water quality rules for wild rice.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has only recently begun enforcing a law, on the books for nearly 40 years, that limits how much sulfate can go into waters where wild rice is found. Officials say the MPCA didn’t enforce the rule for much of that time because the agency didn’t have evidence that sulfates from iron mines or any other operations were entering lakes and streams.

Prompted by industry, members of Legislature are trying to put a stop to the agency’s enforcement of the law. It began applying the standard two years ago, when taconite plants on the Iron Range wanted to expand.

The discharges from copper-nickel mines several companies want to build in the area are expected to have an even higher level of sulfate than taconite mines.
–Minnesota Public Radio

 Iron mining firm eyes northern Wisconsin
A company outlined a proposal to conduct test drilling for a proposed open pit mine near the border of Ashland and Iron counties – a move that could lead to the first such mine in Wisconsin since 1997.

Gogebic Taconite asked the state Department of Natural Resources for permission to drill eight exploratory holes to test for the presence of iron ore.

If approved, Gogebic Taconite would still need to go through an extensive review process that could take several years, DNR officials said.

The issue is likely to pit the interests of environmental protection and economic development.

Water from the site flows through the sensitive Kakagon and Bad River sloughs – the largest such vegetative areas of Lake Superior.

Ultimately, the company and its parent, the Cline Group, would invest more than $1 billion to extract iron ore over the next 35 years in an area near Mellen and Upson, said William T. Williams, president of Gogebic Taconite.
–The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

UW-Madison water scientist honored
University of Wisconsin-Madison limnologist Stephen Carpenter has been awarded the 2011 Stockholm Water Prize, the world’s most prestigious award for water-related activities.

 The award, which comes with $150,000 and a crystal sculpture, honors individuals and organizations “whose work contributes broadly to the conservation and protection of water resources and to improved health of the planet’s inhabitants and ecosystems.”

The award will be conferred in August by King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden in a royal award ceremony at Stockholm City Hall.

 “It s a great honor to be selected,” says Carpenter, the Stephen Alfred Forbes Professor of Zoology at UW-Madison. “So many great people have received this award, and there are so many great people who could have received it. I am surprised.”
–UW-Madison News Release

 Court narrows Wisconsin DNR power
The Wisconsin Supreme Court says the state does not have the authority to determine whether state-issued water pollution permits comply with federal law.

The court’s 5-2 ruling comes in the case of environmentalists who argued a permit was improperly issued in 2005 to Georgia-Pacific’s Broadway Mill in Green Bay.

The court says the state Department of Natural Resources was not required under Wisconsin law to hold a hearing on complaints that the permit failed to comply with the federal Clean Water Act related to phosphorous discharge levels.

The ruling reverses a 2008 appeals court decision that said DNR could determine whether state-issued permits comply with federal law.
–The Associated Press